Ex-gangster wins Singapore Youth Award, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Ex-gangster wins Singapore Youth Award

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In March, local actor Desmond Tan was lauded by TV viewers for his role as a delinquent turned lawyer in hit Channel U drama, Second Chance.

Second Chance is adapted from lawyer Josephus Tan's real life story of a man who made good under tough circumstances.

(L-R) Desmond Tan and Rebecca Lim as love interests in Second Chance. PHOTO: MEDIACORP  

On Sunday (July 12), Mr Tan, 35, was one of six recipients of the Singapore Youth Award.

Given out by the National Youth Council, the award is the highest accolade for young Singaporeans who have made significant contributions to society. 

Desmond Tan took to Instagram today (July 13) to congratulate Mr Tan (pictured below), who he said inspired him greatly with his life story.

He told The New Paper: "Before I filmed the drama, I met up with Josephus and from that one talk with him, I could feel his passion for helping the troubled and needy.

"He may look intimidating but he's a gentle giant.

"Josephus has the face of a lion, the skin of a rhino and a heart of an angel." 


Mr Tan has done over 5,000 hours of pro bono work over six years.

He is currently defending a 21-year-old man who is accused of killing his brother by stabbing him in the neck in Choa Chu Kang.

Why he has chosen to defend troubled youth for free is because he identifies with them.

He told TNP: "The pro bono cases that I take up are often to help youngsters between the ages of 14 and 21.

"These juvenile offenders are usually from broken homes and come from impoverished backgrounds.

"Sometimes, legal issues make their cases even more complex and I have to get everyone together including their family and counsellors so that I can help them. It is not easy."

Mr Tan knows all about a troubled childhood.

When he was in his teens, he was a gangster whose bad drinking habits would often leaving him fighting and sleeping in the back alleys of Boat Quay.

Troubled past

In his late teens, Mr Tan said that when he drank, he would fly into a rage.

Skipping school and getting into fights was just the tip of the iceberg as he found himself sinking deeper into depression from what he perceived to be a goal-less existence.

Often, when he would pass out drunk in his own vomit on the streets, he would get robbed and not realise it till the next day.

Such was life as he struggled to stay in control, mentally.

Said Mr Tan: "My parents were uneducated and all they wanted was for me to grow up and get a job.

"They tried to scold me when they saw my bad behaviour.

"It didn't work. I grew up in Bukit Merah View and then, it was a rough neighbourhood where there were fights, drug addicts on the streets and you see these things daily and they rubbed off on you.

"I was out of control, I wasn't scared of anything and I knew it was either death or prison for me at that time."

Mr Tan, who is the middle child out of three boys, said it was only when he was 22 that he encountered a life-changing moment.

One night, after a big quarrel with his girlfriend in his home, he flew into an uncontrollable rage.

Mr Tan said that he had drank alcohol which further fueled his aggressive behaviour.

"Before I knew it, I was slapping and strangling my girlfriend.

"In the next moment, I had carried her and was going to throw her off the balcony of my home on the 23rd floor.

"My thoughts were after I have thrown her, I would jump to my death."

But Mr Tan's dad, who saw the danger that his son's girlfriend was in, then wrestled Mr Tan to the floor and slapped him twice, hard.

This woke Mr Tan up.

The troubled young man then, for the first time, saw the hurt that he had caused his loved ones.

After he quit alcohol, he turned over a new leaf and went on to pass his law exams at the University Of Southampton in England.

"I miss you"

As Mr Tan accepted the Singapore Youth Award yesterday (pictured below, left), his only regret is that his dad could not witness him receiving it.


Mr Tan's father died of multiple cancers two years ago.

He said that he misses his dad every day.

 "When my dad was on his deathbed in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), I wanted to show him an article that was written about my transformation.

"I was reading it to him but he was in a comatose state so I don't know if he heard what I said.

"What I want to tell him?

"He's the man who saved my life." 

YouthUncategorisedDESMOND TAN